“Respect the Game?” Phooey.

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I went on SportsDash on the NBC Sports Network this afternoon and talked about how, as long as players aren’t being truly rude and in the face of the opposition, there is nothing wrong with celebration. Bat flipping. Exuberance. Some occasional strutting. The sort of stuff I’ve been going on about for a  couple of days here. As soon as I came back upstairs from the little studio in the basement of my fortified compound, however, I got these two messages:

Setting aside the ridiculousness of a couple of La-Z-Boy warriors telling me that I can’t opine on the game if I didn’t play it at a high level, I am just so taken with that last bit. The bit about how Carlos Gomez must “respect the game.”

Like so many sports topic and phrases that seem to exist only in the world of talk radio and “Around The Horn” — whether someone is an “elite quarterback” or whether a basketball player is “coachable” spring to mind — the phrase “respect the game” is as ridiculous as it is meaningless. It’s a cliche that allows its user to pour in any amount of subjective criteria, smatter it with a healthy helping of bullcrap armchair psychology and turn a matter of opinion or aesthetics into some quasi-objective assessment. I sorta messed with the hashtag #RespectTheGame on Twitter earlier today, but if you scroll down past my shenanigans, you’ll see a lot of self-serious (and almost exclusively young, white male) baseball fans speaking about how important it is to respect the game. Repeating that phrase more like a religious incantation than an actual idea.

Of course, when asked to explain those concepts, it’s hard for their proponents to avoid tautology. Johnny Utah is an elite quarterback because he has won Super Bowls and that’s an elite accomplishment. Joe Shlabotnik respects the game because of the way he goes about his business. How does he go about his business? Well, respectfully. Tyrone Shoelaces is a coachable NBA player because he has not yet physically assaulted his coach. Utah, Shlabotnik and Shoelaces are all one failure or gaffe away from losing their elite, respectful and coachable status, of course. Suggesting that these concepts are conveniently malleable.

I actually played football at a higher level than I ever played baseball, so I suppose by some people’s logic I can talk more intelligently about football, but we know that’s not true. I can talk about baseball, though, and I’ll observe that, in baseball, there are a lot of players who have disrespected the game before Carlos Gomez came along. At least in what I presume to be the judgment of guys like my Twitter correspondents up there. Even some guys who, when it’s convenient for the speaker, are held up as examples of Game Respecters Par Excellence. Guys like this:

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Pete Rose. There’s a guy who would never toss his bat and strut out of the box. He totally respected the game. Or how about the Lords of Baseball during its Golden Age?

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More recent Hall of Famers?

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Baseball legends?

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Greater baseball legends?

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Even greater baseball legends?

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The greatest baseball legend of them all?

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The fact of the matter is that baseball is a 150+ year-old game with a grand history of showoffs, jackoffs, clowns, rakes, rogues and irregular characters. I adore a straight-shooting player like Al Kaline, but I thank God for Mark “the Bird” Fidrych. I have nothing but respect for the eternally polite and accommodating Harmon Killebrew, but Rickey Henderson made baseball exciting for my entire childhood and beyond. For every upstanding player that the Respect the Game crowd can point to, I can point to another one of those clowns, rogues and rakes. And I can point to people who find that stuff a lot of fun. Or, even if it’s not intended to be fun, somewhat interesting.

Baseball is in no more need of being respected by any one player than the sun is in need of being respected by cosmic dust. Baseball is way bigger than any of these guys and can survive — or even benefit from — these guys who are alleged to be so lacking in respect. Guys who don’t take everything so damn seriously all the time. Guys that sometimes lose their cool. Guys who use baseball as a vehicle for humor or for ego or for showmanship. Guys who do these things to get butts in the seats or their faces on magazines. Baseball has always survived them. At times, it has even embraced them. The game has never been weakened by them. Indeed, it is often made stronger.

So color me unimpressed with the latest calls for Carlos Gomez or Yasiel Puig or whoever the talk show warriors’ next punching bag happens to be to respect the game. The game has been disrespected by way better and way more disrespectful than the likes of those guys and will be disrespected by many more in the future.

And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment ‘egregious case of service time manipulation’

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.